Culture Critique
Culture Critique

The Eye in the Sky

In addition to being tracked by our phones, photographed and video-recorded in private and public places, and having our communication monitored, with the advent of camera-equipped drones (unmanned aerial vehicles), if the location can’t be linked to us, we can now be tracked to the location. Drones are now actively used for surveillance by the FBI and many police departments in the United States. As we all know, the U.S. military has been using armed drones to conduct surveillance and engage in extrajudicial killing of known terrorists and terrorism suspects, while also at times killing civilians in the process. As Edward Snowden mentions in the documentary CitizenFour, as a contractor for the NSA, he was able to access hundreds of live-feeds of active drones operating around the world as they hovered out of view over potential targets waiting for their next order.


In addition to the use of drones for surveillance, police forces in the United States are beginning to use wearable cameras on the job. While the argument for this is that it provides an accurate record of the officer’s conduct in their contact with the public, it is also a way for the police to monitor a group of law–abiding protestors and later document who they are, so they can be monitored without probable cause under the PATRIOT Act. This surveillance goes hand in hand with the increasing militarization of U.S. police forces.


To remove the government doublespeak of the PATRIOT Act, remember, it is patriotic to protest injustice, and that our right to free assembly is protected by the 1st amendment. Meanwhile, citizens are turning the camera back at the police in order to document their abuse of power, to keep them in line, and return the balance of power: for whoever is filming has control, and control is power. While this sousveillance, or watching from below, as opposed to surveillance, being watched by the authorities, serves to hold the police accountable, we have to ask what sort of a society we live in where the public and the government need to film each other to prevent crime (as the police would argue), but also to discourage lawful protest, on the one hand, and prevent abuse of power on the other? Clearly this is an indication that the social contract is damaged.

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